Monday, January 24, 2011

Natural Pest Control in the Garden

This past Sunday we held a workshop on strategies for controlling pests in the garden without the use of chemical pesticides. Here is the presentation from the workshop.

Natural Pest Control in the Organic Garden

Carrots- A Permaculture Teaching Tool

Last summer I was asked to give a presentation about permaculture to the staff at Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta. I wanted to illustrate to them that if they were to teach all their staff, dishwashers, cooks, wait staff, to apply permaculture thinking to their respective tasks every day the business would benefit and they would be making a larger contribution to the greater good. After all, the goals of permaculture are to care for the land, care for the people and ensure everyone has her fair share of nature's abundance. I used the role of the prep cook as an example as follows:

Let's say that the restaurant normally sources carrots from Rabbit Haven Farm where they grow the carrot variety Red Core Chantenay. Red Core Chantenay is a short very pointed carrot. One day Rabbit Haven was out of carrots so the chef ordered carrots from Foggy River Farm where they grow the Bolero variety which is a long cylindrical carrot. When the prep cook diced the Bolero carrots she observed that she got more perfectly shaped carrot cubes with less waste per pound from them than she did from the carrots from Rabbit Haven and it took less time to prep them too. Applying Holmgren's permaculture principle, observe and interact, she said "hey Chef, we should start buying carrots from Foggy River all the time. We can save money and time!" Another permaculture principle comes into thinking process: obtain a yield. The chef says "thanks for sharing that with me. We will start doing that." The Chef eats some of the carrots and notices how sweet they are so he comes up with a new recipe to showcase their sweetness. He is applying the principles of creatively responding to change and applying self-regulation and accepting feedback.

You can see from this example that permaculture thinking can be of benefit in many situations beyond growing food, fiber and craft materials. It is applicable to business, government, and educational systems as well.

We use permaculture thinking to make decisions about the crops we grow. We grow both Red Core Chantenay and Bolero carrots. We have a section in the garden where the soil is a nice deep sandy loam, perfect for growing the longer Bolero carrots. When we rotate carrots to beds with more clay content we switch to the Red Core Chantenay which produce well in the heavier soil. The Red Core Chantenay is an heirloom open pollinated variety sow we save seeds from it.

Carrots are biennial which means they do not flower until the 2nd year after planting. They go through a process called vernalization. Cold temperatures in the winter act as a trigger to turn on the desire to flower in the spring and produce seed. Carrots planted in spring will flower a year later. Fall-planted carrots will begin to flower the following spring. This usually happens here in mid-April to early May depending on the temperature. It is important to keep your eye on them so you will observe when this change starts to take place. When the flower stalk begins to appear you need to pull up all of the carrots and store them in the refrigerator where they will keep for several months. As the flower begins to form the plant extracts the sugars from the roots to have energy to form seeds. The roots quickly become woody and inedible.

We grow carrots in spring and fall so we will have their deliciousness and nutritiousness all year round.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Pedagogy of Transformation - Powerful Words from a Visionary Farmer

The streets were jammed with buses, cars and people headed to the 25th annual Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday celebration at the MLK Center in Atlanta
Monday as I made my way to the fruit tree planting at the new 4 acre Wheat Street
Gardens Urban Farm. As I got out of my truck i could hear singing coming from the celebration at the King Center, 2 blocks away. I got there a little after the posted start time of 10:00 a.m. I was astounded to see a swarm of people already working away, hauling compost, planting trees,
bulbs and shrubs and wheeling mulch all around the site. There were old people, middle aged people, young adults and lots and lots of kids. Families were gathering together to take pictures of each other planting trees on this important day. Every one was joyous and the mood was infectious.

I tracked down Rashid Nuri and Eugene Cook, the masterminds behind this wonderful project, to see what they would like me to do. I commented about how awesome it was to see so many people there and Rashid said he was too. He said that as an organization they had not done any promotion of the event to the greater community. The plants were donated by ALFI, the Atlanta, Local Food Initiative, so some people involved in that group knew about and came out. Other people heard about it through the grape vine and many people who came for the MLK Day festivities happened by and decided to pitch in. I would estimate that there were over 200 people working during the course of the day. I would also say that 90% of them had never planted a fruit tree or shrub before.

I was assigned the task of planting the blackberries and raspberries. I worked with a couple of college aged women and a man and his little boy. The little boy asked what it was we were planting. I told him they were raspberries. His dad asked me when they would start producing fruit. I said it would be next year before there would be any fruit to pick. He said " Hey son, we will be about to come back next year to see and taste the fruits of our work here today". The little boy was excited by that prospect. The 2 women said they lived a few blocks away and had stumbled upon the farm while out walking one day. They were interested in finding out about other opportunities to contribute in the future. I showed them how to plant the berries properly and we all pitched in to get the job done.

As we were finishing up the planting a group of 3 or 4 boys and girls about 9 or 10 years old started showing up with buckets full of wood chips. Back and forth up and down the hill they went bringing bucket after bucket. One of the boys asked if what was in the bucket was fertilizer? I said no it was mulch. He asked, "well what is fertilizer?" then answered himself with "manure". I told him the microbes in the soil would eventually break down the mulch to feed the plants. "humus?" he asked. I said yes it would eventually turn into humus. "Oh, you mean decay". Yes, young man, you totally get it.

After we finished up that project I found Rashid to let him know we were done and i told him about the conversation with the kids. He got a big smile on his face and he said that this farm was all about the pedagogy of transformation. Teach people to transform themselves and they will go out and transform their community. This process made a huge leap forward that day. There is no doubt in my mind that many people were inspired to go back to their homes and communities and start growing some food. I imagine for many people this was an experience they will never forget. I know I will not.

Here some links to information about Rashid and Eugene's work at Truly Living Well Natural Urban Farms. and their partner in this effort the Wheat Street Baptist Church Foundation.

Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture
Wheat Street Baptist Church
Wheat Street Gardens Urban Farm

Saturday, January 8, 2011

'Minuet' Napa Cabbage - a Tiny Dancer

Some times my brain just does not work right! Back in late July, early August I started some seedlings to plant for our fall garden. Among them were Georgia collards, Champion Vates collards and Minuet napa cabbage. I had not grown napa cabbage before. In fact, I don't recall ever eating it either. I heard Chef Eric Ripert talking about how sweet it was while ripping apart a Top Chef contestant for using it inappropriately in a dish. That was when i decided to give it a try.

When the transplants were ready i set them out in various beds throughout the garden. After about a month they were about ready for some of the outer leaves to be harvested. Now i thought i had planted the napa in one part of the garden but there were none there so i figured they must have died or gotten eaten by something. There were these beautiful crinkly leaved plants growing in another place that i figured were the Champion collards. I had never grown them either. We harvested and cooked some of the leaves and they were delicious. We took some to market, labeling them Champion collards but they did not sell well. I decided we should call them "Champion Greens" instead since they didn't look like collards so maybe our customers were confused. They still didn't sell. So we let them continue to grow.

After about a month they started to form heads like a cabbage. I told Robin that I didn't remember anything about Vates collards forming heads in the description in the seed catalog. This was now several months after i had started the seeds and the memory of napa cabbage was buried deep inside my brain. I harvested a head, thinly sliced it, sauteed it in butter, topped it with some crispy bacon and it was sweet and delicious. Some of the best greens we had ever tasted. We were in love with those Champion Vates collards. I made a note to grow lots more of them in the spring.

Well, a couple of weeks ago i was doing research on Vates collards for the series of posts i started on the vegetable varieties we grow. Guess what? Those were not Vates collards. It was then that the long lost memory of the napa cabbage crept back to the surface of my addled brain. Aha, these are the napa cabbage!

Regular napa cabbage makes heads that are 2-3 pounds each. The Minuet variety makes heads that are about 1 pound each, perfect as a side dish for 2 people. Chef Ripert was correct, they are quite sweet. They grew quickly and were not bothered by pests even when the collards and kale growing nearby were infested with aphids. Looking back at the catalog description, it seems that they might not work here as a spring crop because the can bolt early in spring in warm climates. I am going to give them a try however and next fall i will be growing a lot of Minuet napa cabbage.
Seed Source - Johnny's Seeds

Butter Braised Napa Cabbage w/ Bacon and Egg

1 Head Minuet Napa Cabbage- 1 lb.
4 tablespoons salted butter
3 strips bacon cooked crisp
1 fresh yard egg
salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in an iron skillet and allow to brown slightly. Thinly slice the cabbage. Add the thicker bottom end of the cabbage first and saute´on medium high heat for about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper. Add the remaining cabbage and cook for 5 minutes more. Crack the egg into the cabbage and stir in. Keep stirring until the egg is just done. Top with crumbled bacon and serve.

Robin likes this so much she could eat the whole pan by herself.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Tokyo Bekana - A Step Above Lettuce

I don't like lettuce. I don't like the bitter flavor. It does not make anyone's list of the top ten most nutritious vegetables. I have a hard time getting the seeds to germinate. Just when it starts to form a nice head in the spring it bolts. It will not grow in the heat of summer. Just when it starts to form a nice head in the fall a freeze nails it. Every other farmer at our market grows it. Why bother.
Just sayin'.

So. Tokyo Bekana. Looks like lettuce. It has a nice sweet flavor with the crunchy crisp texture of lettuce. It is a type of mustard (Brassica juncea) so has lots of antioxidants and other nutrients. It is easy to grow. It is prolific. It has withstood 15º cold. Supposedly it will grow in summer. I will find out this year about that. It is an open pollinated heirloom variety so the seeds can be saved and replanted.

I was looking for some new greens to try this fall when i came across Tokyo Bekana in Johnnys Seed catalog. The description got my attention.
"Adds a new dimension to salad mixes. Bright, light green leaves are curly and ruffled for loft (meaning they will make the bag look full at the market), with good weight and shelf life. (meaning if i don't sell it all at the Wednesday market it will keep until the Saturday market). Regrows for multiple cuttings. ..."

So I planted a couple of beds. I sowed the seed in 3" wide bands, 3 rows per bed. In about a month i started harvesting by thinning the rows for baby greens. As the plants got bigger i harvested and bunched the outer leaves. After 6 weeks the plants were getting really large so i began taking the whole heads. They weighed up to 1.25 lbs. each. They flavor remained nice and sweet. Then the temperature dropped like a rock so we covered the beds with heavy row covers and crossed our fingers. When we uncovered a couple of days later we found that the outer leaves were damaged but the centers were fine. We stripped off the damaged leaves and fed them to the chickens and took the rest to market.

Our customers always think they are lettuce when they see them in our display. When they take a taste they are suprised to find how sweet they are. They are happy to learn that they can be used as a salad green or sauteed like bok choy. Once they have tried them they come back asking for them. Tokyo Bekana is definitely a keeper at the Funny Farm.
Just sayin'.

Seed Sources:
Johnny's Seed
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hakurei- Turnip Royalty

Given the choice between turnip greens and collards, i always chose collards. Turnip greens are too spicy and kind of slimy when cooked. The root of the traditional purple top variety (refers to the top of the root not the leaves) is pretty bland. About 8 years ago i came across a turnip variety in Johnnys Seed catalog called Hakurei. They called it a salad variety with a sweet flavor. It was supposed to take 38 days to get a crop. I decided to give it a try. I am sure glad i did! In 6 weeks there were these snow white golf ball sized roots of pure goodness. Definitely not your grandma's turnips.
I met a gentleman at a conference at Will Allen's Growing Power in Milwaukee who was also growing them for market. He raved about them too. He said at first people would tell him that they didn't like turnips and walk on by. He was able to convince a few people to give them a try. Once they did they came back for more and told their friends to try them too. Today, Hakurei turnips can be found at most farmers markets around the country.
They are a very versatile vegetable. In Japan, where they originated, they are pickled in a salt brine with seaweed. We eat them raw in salads, steamed, put them in soups and stews, and, my favorite, roasted. Roasting brings out their delicate sweetness.
I make successive plantings all year round. In about 6 weeks they will be about golf ball sized, eventually getting up to tennis ball size when mature. I seed them in 3 inch bands. It is best to thin the seedlings to about 3 " apart to get the biggest roots but i often never get around to it and they just grow on top of one another. I pull the biggest ones and let the others continue to grow. One planting can be harvested for up to 2 months, longer in the fall and winter. The temperature dropped to 15º a couple of weeks ago and most of them roots were not damaged even though they grow right on top of the soil.
If you are a turnip green fan i would suggest growing another variety. Hakurei does not produce a heavy top and the foliage tends to degrade over time. Johnnys carries another "salad" turnip variety called Scarlet Queen. I grew her side by side with Hakurei and was not impressed with her at all.
Hakurei is the King of turnips here at the Funny Farm.

How to Roast- Pre-heat your oven to 425º .Wash the turnips and remove the tops to be eaten separately. Cut them in half length-wise. pour some olive oil into a roasting dish and pace the turnips cut side down. Drizzle a little more oil over the top and roast for about 45 minutes or until fork tender and the bottoms have caramelized (turned brown).
If you have any left over the next day you can make fried turnip cakes. Mash them, combine them with very finely diced onion and an egg. Spoon the mixture into an iron skillet with melted butter. Fry until golden brown. Flip over and fry the other side. Remove from the pan and inhale. Repeat. Heavenly!




Thinly slice turnips and radishes into strips. You can also grate them. Combine in a bowl with the blue cheese. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Add to the vegetables. Let it sit for an hour so the flavors can marry. Serve at room temperature.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Propagating Herbs- Divide and Conquer

Most perennial herbs are easy to propagate. Today i propagated 3 varieties of thyme, and sweet marjoram. These are sprawling herbs whose long flexible stems root where ever they touch the ground. All one has to do is to find where the stems have rooted, dig them up, detach the rooted stems from the mother plant, trim them up and plant in a pot to grow out.

Here is a flat of divisions of sweet marjoram. I gently separated them into individual plants making sure each division had a good root system and some good growing branches.
Next i trimmed each division by cutting back the foliage and removing any damaged or long roots so that i would have a nice neat little plant with a good balance of roots to foliage.

I potted the divisions in recycled pint plastic pots using my standard potting mix. My mix is 75% worm castings our worms produce for us and 25% local granite sand. The worm castings are full of microorganisms and nutrients. The granite sand provides more nutrients and allows the mix to drain well. The fungi in the worm castings love to feed on the granite sand releasing nutrients to the plants. I want my plants to have the full benefits of the soil food web from the very beginning of their lives. It makes them happy.
Finally i put them in the unheated greenhouse and water them in. By spring they will have rooted in and developed nice full tops ready to be sold at our local farmers market.

Tomorrow i will be propagating 2 varieties of oregano, garlic chives, chocolate mint, welsh onions and rosemary.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Champion Vates Collards - a New Years Tradition

This is the first post in a regular series I will be doing on the vegetable varieties we grow.

I am starting with collards for several reasons. They have been a southern staple food for many generations. My father-in-law, Joe Fail, might be their biggest fan. At 78 years young he still grows, cooks and eats collards by the truck load every year. His wife Joyce got so tired of the smell of collards a couple of years ago she said she was going to buy a red pickup truck, fill the bed with collards, drive north until she found a place where no one knew what they were and she was going to move there. As are all of the vegetables in the brassica family, collards are very nutritious, high in anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals. Our friend Terry J., a long time survivor of aids, says he attributes his longevity to eating collards and black eyed peas on a regular basis.

We grow the Champion variety of Vates collards. Vates collards were developed at the Virginia Truck Experiment Station in S.E. Virginia near Virginia Beach in the 1930's. The idea for them came out of the Great Depression. The goal was to breed a collard that could be grown, harvested and eaten over the longest period of time possible so people could have fresh, nutritious food through the winter. The plants needed to be cold tolerant and go to seed (bolt) as late as possible the following spring. The researchers selected the plants that survived the cold and flowered the latest, saved the seed and planted them the following year. They continued to do so until they got plants with the characteristics they were after. This was the beginning of the Vates variety of collard. It is an open pollinated variety so you can save seeds from them, plant them again next year and get the same results.

The researchers continued to work with the Vates variety to improve it even more. In 1979 they introduced the Champion variety. It was vigorous like Vates and bolted even later in the spring, providing nutritious food from October until April. What other vegetable can be counted on the provide food for 7 months out of the year? Not many!

Here is a traditional Southern recipe for collards adapted from the Cullipher family recipe who has grown Vates collards commercially for 3 generations in coastal North Carolina and Virginia.


A Pot of Collards
-2 pounds collards
-1 teaspoon sugar - optional
-1/2 lb. country ham, smoked ham hock, smoked turkey leg or wing, bacon etc.
-Salt to taste (may not require salt if your meat is very salty)
-Water to cover well after they are wilted

Wash the leaves well. Fold the leaves in half and pull out the stems. Roll several leaves together and cut into strips. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender and buttery. About an hour or 2.

When done, take collards out of pot. Drain collards well and put in bowl.

Chop or cut through collards well. Then, if you like, you can spoon some of the fat off the top of the pot likker and put on top of the collards.

Garnish with chow chow. When the bowl is empty, sop up the remaining pot likker with fresh corn bread. Get another bowl and repeat.

Source for seed: Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

Happy New Year Y'all!